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Rebel Chefs From OC Bring Underground Foie Gras Parties to Los Angeles
On a recent Friday night, I attended the most bizarre culinary experience of my life. In what seemed to be the equivalent of a underground rave map point, I was given a dinner invitation with nothing but an address and building security code just a few hours before a very secret, very illegal meal was to begin.
My curiosity was piqued by an e-mail that led me down this rabbit hole:
"We would like to cordially invite you to an intimate evening of banished delectables and forbidden delights with none other than Parisian transplants, FAKE MUSIC. Join us for a Foie Gras tasting menu brought to you by award winning, internationally renowned chefs Pascal Olhats and Chris Tzorin. This culinary curation will be accompanied by aural treats including the latest unreleased records from FAKE Music, a sponsored bar, and other surprises for the senses. The event takes place at 8 p.m. Secret Downtown Location will be revealed the night of to all who RSVP. Due to the grey legality of this event, please keep the location private. Looking forward to seeing you - Yoann, Joss, and FAKE Music."
Sure enough, the FAKE event was indeed real, and at around 8 p.m. I found myself wandering around the dimly-lit streets of downtown's Fashion District trying to find the party.
It was so dark that I could hardly make out the street numbers. In search of directions, I stumbled on a small warehouse filled with clothing and a handful of workers. Once they noticed my camera, they started yelling in Spanish “The girl has a camera! The girl has a camera!” I think I may have found myself in some sort of illegal garment fabrication operation. I explained myself to the floor manager, and after a brief panic from the workers, he assured them I was genuinely lost and promptly redirected me to the address I was looking for.
After finally locating the building, I entered in the code, and stepped into a squeaky, rickety elevator that slowly ascended to my destination. When I finally made it to the 4th floor, I navigated a maze of lofts and finally found myself greeted by a diverse, hungry crowd.
Twenty-some local food and music bloggers were in attendance, along with other curious diners. The chefs of honor were going to "free-style" their cooking based on Parisian band FAKE MUSIC's electronic beats. The band is trying to break into the US, so they wanted to make their first foray shocking and delicious.
Orange County chefs Chris Tzorin and Manny Velasco were there chatting with invitees about their love for foie gras before the meal. Tzorin, who's been featured on the Food Network, "Guy's Grocery Games" and "Cutthroat Kitchen" and Velasco, owner of the Sol Agave food truck, were extremely passionate about passion for showcasing the now-taboo ingredient. Tzorin's (who has a day job as the executive chef of Tortilla Republic) goal: "To lead a revolution."
"It's not fair that you can buy 7, 8 ounces of duck breasts yet you have to throw away the liver," said Tzorin. To be fair, it's not duck liver that's illegal, that's still fair game for chefs to use as an ingredient. It's duck liver that have been raised for foie gras by being engorged through the controversial process of gavage.
Foie gras is not allowed to be sold or produced in California, but that does not mean patrons will be prosecuted for eating it. The delicacy, which is produced by force-feeding corn to ducks and geese to enlarge their livers, was banned in California in 2012. Although prohibited, chefs have found loopholes around the foie gras ban: one of those ways includes not charging people for dinner. A number of restaurants in California, like the folks behind FAKE, have evaded the law by giving away the delicacy for free under the conditions that patrons buy something else or make a donation.
Animal activists have long argued that the force-feeding process is inhumane. Since the law passed, just getting a hold of foie gras is a process in California. The chefs explained that it has to be bought in a different state like Nevada, smuggled, and transferred to California.
And it’s not cheap either. Two pounds of foie goes for about $200, they said. Velasco, added: "It's not hard to get. You can get it from any poultry company really. Just give them a one week notice and get it from out of state." Tzorin would not reveal the company that provided him with the liver, but he did note that he had a connection drive it in from the border.
“I’m speaking on behalf of all chefs who don't have the balls to say it. It’s not fair that foie gras is banned. Food is like a canvas and protein like foie gras is my main color. Taking away protein is taking away part of the canvas,” said Tzorin.
Personally, I love foie gras, but I don't consider it anything special. The fact that it's against the law has made it more intriguing and desirable. I spoke to many other guests who actually didn't like foie gras or didn't like the texture, but were there to be rebellious. The truffled foie gras mousse and seared foie gras lobe were our forbidden dishes of the night, with the foie gras mousse being the standout dish. For those who have never had foie gras, it tasted like a very rich almost beefy taste with the texture of bone marrow that melts in your mouth. The truffle oil really brought out the flavor of the liver, wowing fellow patrons who don't typically like it. A music blogger who had never eaten foie gras before told me she expected it to taste terrible, but she was pleasantly surprised that she enjoyed the dish. The four dishes were beautifully done but the dinner wasn't filling—I picked up some street tacos on the way home.
It was the interesting company and the journey of getting to our secret dinner that made it memorable. I felt like I was in an exclusive club for cool kids. While our chefs were bobbing their heads to electronic beats in DTLA, I mingled with an eclectic crowd of people—from a writer from Playboy to a writer for Thought Catalog—who just wanted to eat and "join the rebellion."
So why does Tzorin even bother? “I’m doing this all for you food lovers. Can I get in trouble? Hell yeah. Do I give a shit? Hell no. I wanna lead the revolution," Tzorin said. "They can chase me all they want, but they wont catch me. I hope all chefs do secret dinners because you have a chance to take risks and inspire others to step outside the box.”
The chefs hope to continue these secret foie gras dinners once a month and perhaps even adding exotic animal meats to the mix. So how can one get on the coveted list? You’ll just have to know the right people.This particular night's dinner was sponsored by FAKE Music to bring together interesting folks in the food and music industry, but Tzorin and Velasco plan on throwing more dinners to bring awareness to the foie gras and other foods they do not believe should be banned.
The meal lasted for four hours and concluded with the sounds of the neighbor’s sexcapades seeping through the paper-thin walls and one of our chefs ending up extremely drunk. This is definitely one of those crazy nights that I will never forget.
And if the chefs start getting those pesky letters from PETA's legal team, I doubt they'll forget it either.